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New Mexico Senate endorses $200 million for business grants

February 19, 2021 GMT
State House Majority Speaker Brian Egolf takes his oath on the opening day of the legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. State lawmakers convened for the opening day of a two-month session. Capitol buildings are closed to the public due to the pandemic, and under strict security lockdowns due to the Jan. 6 attack against federal lawmakers in Washington D.C. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
State House Majority Speaker Brian Egolf takes his oath on the opening day of the legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. State lawmakers convened for the opening day of a two-month session. Capitol buildings are closed to the public due to the pandemic, and under strict security lockdowns due to the Jan. 6 attack against federal lawmakers in Washington D.C. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s Senate has endorsed a bill that would provide $200 million from the state general fund to thousands of businesses that experienced income declines in 2020, in a nearly unanimous vote Thursday.

The bill would provide individual grants of up to $100,000 without repayment to businesses for the reimbursement of rent, lease or mortgage obligations on property located in New Mexico.

The bill returns to the House for consideration of Senate amendments. A spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the governor plans to sign the measure.

The arrangement tests the boundaries of the state Constitution’s “anti-donation clause” that prohibits government donations as a precaution against corruption.

The proposal from Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf and allied state Rep. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos stands among a long list of bills aimed at reviving the local economy as New Mexico emerges from the pandemic and aggressive emergency health orders from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

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“When you’re closed and you have no other source of income and you just need to survive, we need to make those opportunities for New Mexicans in any way, shape or form,” Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup said Wednesday as the lead Senate budget committee endorsed the grant program.

Republican Sen. Pat Woods of Grady bristled at the prospect of continued business restrictions as relief initiatives are drafted.

¨There still aren’t any assurances that we’ll have those businesses open,” Woods said. He cast the lone “no” vote against the bill on Thursday.

The proposed grants would be contingent on the hiring or rehiring of employees. Similar grants with more restrictions under the Local Economic Development Act are exempt from the constitutional provisions that prohibit the direct donation of taxpayer dollars as an anti-corruption measure.

A House-approved version of the bill would keep grant applications confidential — an exception to transparency provisions in the state inspection of public records act. The Senate-approved bill would keep only tax-return information confidential, Muñoz said.

Businesses owned by five state senators benefited last year from small business grants enacted by the Legislature and underwritten by the federal relief funds, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press under provisions of the public records act.

Separately, state legislators are advancing proposals for minimal-interest loans to small businesses, tax rebates to low-wage workers and a monthslong tax holiday for restaurants.

Lujan Grisham has indicating her support for $475 million in relief spending during the coming fiscal year, deferring to legislators on many details.

New Mexico’s current emergency health order limits public gatherings to 20 people or less depending on local COVID-19 infection rates, with limited capacity at most businesses and no access to entertainment or close-contact recreational venues.